US officials announced today that Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is being charged with 17 counts of murder, as well as other counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault and dereliction of duty related to the March 11 massacre in Kandahar Province.
The “17 counts” is odd because every official statement from US and Afghan officials has indicated that 16 people were slain. The official who announced the charges did not explain where the extra count came from.
Needless to say such a massive number of charges could carry an enormous prison sentence, and the trial will be closely watched, particularly after virtually all of the charges against those responsible for the Haditha massacre in Iraq were quietly dropped and one soldier was given a pay cut related to that massacre.
Bales lawyer, John Henry Browne, has said that he has been provided with no evidence related to the massacre, and Bales denies remember anything about the incident. Browne has hinted at his defense strategy, saying that “the war is on trial” in the case. There has been speculation that Bales’ repeated deployments played a role in the massacre. This was his fourth overall deployment, with three previous tours in Iraq.